WALLA WALLA — After weeks of paring and parsing, Walla Walla County commissioners have approved the county’s 2013 budget.
Commissioners Greg Tompkins, Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson voted unanimously to approve the budget at their Monday meeting. The formal resolution on the budget was signed today.
But at Monday’s meeting, commissioners and county Treasurer Gordon Heimbigner warned there will be little, if any, leeway for anyone facing a budget shortfall in the coming year.
“The budget we’ve that we’ve given (you)…is the bare-minimum budget, I think, for pretty much every department. But there’s nothing else to pad it with…” Heimbigner said Monday.
As in previous years, the major debate in the budget process concerned the current expense fund, which pays for much of the county’s day-to-day expenses. Expenditures from the 2013 current expense fund are budgeted at about $15.2 million.
At the start of this year’s budget process, the gap between expected current expense revenues and requested budget increases was about $1.9 million. That was closed by cutting out requested increases and using reserve funds, Heimbigner and Dozier said.
“What we ended up doing is going back to 2012 levels,” Dozier said Thursday. The only increases added were 4 percent for health care and a 2.16 percent “cost of living” raise for non-union employees.
Reserve funds that would normally be used to make up budget shortfalls next year played a major role in bridging the gap, Heimbigner told commissioners Monday.
“We’re spending more reserves this year than we’ve ever spent in the past,” he said. “When you total it all up, we’re over about $1.1 million in reserves that we’re using to balance this budget this year.”
That money won’t be available in 2013 if a department head or elected official asks for extra funds, Heimbigner said.
“We’ve always used that extra in the current expense reserve to cover budget amendments and stuff like that … You aren’t going to have that reserve there to fall back on when you start looking at doing budget amendments (in 2013),” he said.
Dozier agreed that the tight finances mean budget increase requests will likely only be granted if corresponding revenue can be found.
“When it comes to budget amendments next year, I feel very strongly, and hopefully my fellow two commissioners and (county Auditor Karen Martin) and Gordon feel the same way about this … that we will not be doing budget amendments unless there is associated revenue to offset it in the early stages of the year … If you want to have (an) expense, you had better have a grant or some type of revenue to offset it,” Dozier said Monday.
He suggested commissioners not look at any budget amendments until the second or third quarter of the year except in the case of a “severe” emergency.
“As much as there are needs out there, or wants, by many people to increase certain departments’ budgets, there is absolutely no monies to get it unless you take it away from another department … It’s coming down to that,” he said.
Commissioners agreed another unknown in the 2013 budget will be the outcome of contract negotiations with the unions representing the sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers and courthouse employees. Those are not expected to be completed until next year.
Commissioners agreed to not change the budgets submitted, but to let department heads and elected officials know that until contract negotiations are complete, they need to be prepared for retroactive pay raises if those are called for in the new contracts.
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318.